TUALITY OF JESUITS
A Path to Finding God in All Things
William Rehg, S.J.
DNL PER BX3701 S88x
Studies in the spirituality of Jesuits.. [St. Loui
Arrival Date: 06/13/2002
toston College Libraries
34/3 • MAY 2002
THE SEMINAR ON JESUIT SPIRITUALITY
The Seminar is composed of a number of Jesuits appointed from their provinces in
the United States.
It concerns itself with topics pertaining to the spiritual doctrine and prac-
tice of Jesuits, especially United States Jesuits, and communicates the results to the
members of the provinces through its publication, STUDIES IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF
JESUITS. This is done in the spirit of Vatican ITs recommendation that religious
institutes recapture the original inspiration of their founders and adapt it to the
circumstances of modern times. The Seminar welcomes reactions or comments in
regard to the material that it publishes.
The Seminar focuses its direct attention on the life and work of the Jesuits
of the United States. The issues treated may be common also to Jesuits of other
regions, to other priests, religious, and laity, to both men and women. Hence, the
journal, while meant especially for American Jesuits, is not exclusively for them.
Others who may find it helpful are cordially welcome to make use of it.
CURRENT MEMBERS OF THE SEMINAR
William A. Barry, S.J., directs the tertianship program and is a writer at Cam-
pion Renewal Center, Weston, MA (1999).
Robert L. Bireley, S.J., teaches history at Loyola University, Chicago, IL (2001)
James F. Keenan, S.J., teaches moral theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theol-
ogy, Cambridge, MA (2000).
Lawrence J. Madden, S.J., directs the Georgetown Center for Liturgy, Washing-
ton, DC (2001)
Douglas W Marcouiller, S.J., teaches economics at Boston College, Chestnut
Hill, MA (2000).
G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., teaches German language and literature at Georgetown
University, Washington, DC (2001)
Thomas R O'Malley, S.J., is associate dean of arts and sciences and teaches in
the honors program at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA (2000).
John W Padberg, S.J., is chairman of the Seminar, editor of STUDIES, and direc-
tor and editor at the Institute of Jesuit Sources (1986).
William R. Rehg, S.J., teaches philosophy at St. Louis University, St. Louis,
The opinions expressed in STUDIES are those of the individual authors thereof.
Parentheses designate year of entry as a Seminar member.
Copyright © 2002 and published by the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality
3601 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63108
(Tel. 314-977-7257; Fax 314-977-7263)
A Path to Finding God in All Things
William Rehg, S.J.
STUDIES IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF JESUITS
34/3 • MAY 2002
Of all things . . .
This May 2002 issue of STUDIES is my last as its editor, and soon I will
chair my last meeting of the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality. About that I will say
more later. However, I will continue to direct the Institute of Jesuit Sources, where, I
hope, we will not give reason for the remark of the fourth general of the Society, Fr.
Everard Mercurian, "Nothing gives the Society so much trouble as the publishing of
books." I will also continue to serve for several years, so it seems, as rector of the
Jesuit Community at Saint Louis University.
One always learns something new and often unexpected! Did you know that
Edmund Campion, the English Jesuit martyr, wrote an epic poem? He is the author
of an 821-line Virgilian hexameter work on the birth of the Church and on the
transitory glory of the Roman Empire versus the eternal glory of the Church of
Rome (Sancta salutiferi nascentia semina verbi). The Times Literary Supplement from
March 8, 2002, carried an article, "Eternal Glory: Edmund Campion's Virgilian
Epic," by Gerard Kilroy. Apparently there is only one extant copy of the poem. If
you should want to consult it, it is in the British Library under the rubric "Addi-
tional MS. 36529." Not even Carlos Sommervogel, S.J., the historian and editor of
the great bibliography of all Jesuit publications from the beginning of the Society up
to 1890, when his multivolume work appeared, records the existence of this epic in
his ten-column list of all the works of Campion then known. Historians and others
owe a great debt to Sommervogel, the centenary of whose death occurs this month.
Literally thousands of Jesuit writings would have been unknown had it not been for
his decades-long labors.
Facts about thousands of Jesuits (more than five thousand) and much, much
more that is new and important can now be found in one of the most valuable
works that the Society of Jesus has ever produced in its more than 450 years of
existence. This is the newly published four-volume, more than four-thousand-page
historical dictionary of the Society, Diccionario Historico de la Compania de Jesus:
Biogrdfico-Thematico. This extraordinarily interesting and useful work presents, in
addition to biographies, such delights as histories of the Society in all the countries in
which it has worked, treatments of themes such as atheism, law, missiology,
economics, spirituality, and Vatican II— all reflecting a Jesuit context. These are
serious, carefully researched, and clearly written essays. If he could have perused this
dictionary, perhaps even John Adams would not have judged the Jesuits as he did in
a famous letter of May 6, 1816, to Thomas Jefferson: "If any congregation of men
could merit eternal perdition on earth and in hell, it is the company of Loyola." This
first edition, in Spanish, is published jointly by the Jesuit Historical Institute in
Rome and the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid. The entire Society owes a
great debt of gratitude to the American Jesuit Fr. Charles E. O'Neill, former director
of the Jesuit Historical Institute, who conceived of the dictionary and began to
organize it, and to the Spanish Jesuit Fr. Joaquin Dominguez, who carried it to
completion. The Institute of Jesuit Sources hopes to publish a later edition in English
some years from now.
The recent News and Features: The Society in Numbers, from the Jesuit
information office in Rome, can give rise to a good many questions and reflections,
far too many to deal with here. But regarding the U.S. Assistancy, with its present
3,462 members, one might well ask, "Why do we still have ten provinces?" And one
might well reflect on the implications of the following circumstances: If we continue
to put off serious work on reducing the number of provinces, we may continue to be
able to find ten good and able provincials, but where will we continue to be able to
find ten good and able socii, ten province treasurers, ten formation assistants, forty
province consultors, not to mention members of "province commissions" (eleven in
one of the current U.S. provinces) and "province officials" (nineteen in another
province)? The argument, a good one, is sometimes advanced that to consolidate
provinces would consume so much energy better devoted to apostolic works. But
how much energy is unavailable for such works because of the legitimate but
reduplicative needs of ten province administrations? Just asking!
Since its founding in 1969 the Seminar on Jesuit Spirituality has produced 163 issues
of STUDIES. Father George Ganss, the founding chairman and editor, to whom as
Jesuits we owe so much, was responsible for eighty of those issues. With this, my last
issue, I will have sat in the editor's chair for eighty-three more of them. What the
periodical is all about and why it is published I won't repeat here; all you need do is
look at the inside front cover to see the purposes for which the Seminar and STUDIES
In the course of its thirty-four years, 103 Jesuits from the U.S. provinces
have been members of the Seminar. They especially, but also other Jesuits and
laymen and laywomen, and in one instance a woman religious, have written on an
extraordinary variety of subjects. The first two issues in 1969 bore the titles "A
Profile of the Contemporary Jesuit: His Challenges and Opportunities" and
"Authentic Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: A Brief History of Their Practice and
Terminology." If you have issues of STUDIES going that far back, you'll find that
profile still relevant and the history of practice and terminology still illuminating.
From there on, the subjects ranged from discernment to poverty, from spiritual
direction to general congregations, from leadership and authority to authenticity and
change, from the place of art in Jesuit life to prayer, from affectivity and sexuality to
obedience, from Christology to alcoholism to reverence, from faith and justice to
higher education, from formation to technology, from history and devotions to
communication, from ecology to fund raising, from community to the Spiritual
Exercises, from the liturgy to leisure, from Jesuits in jail to parish ministry, from
history to poetry, from physics to Scripture, from imagination to counseling, from
the Trinity to multiculturalism. And you can add here other topics dealt with that
are among your favorites. If you consult the list of issues still in print at the end of
each issue of STUDIES, you will see how varied all these subjects have been. These are
examples of Ignatius's fundamental insight and experience of finding God in all
The members of the Seminar itself have all been Jesuits, but with what a
variety of backgrounds. They ranged from theologian to physicist, ethicist to linguist,
historian to psychiatrist, Scripture scholar to economist, philosopher to TV producer,
fund raiser to playwright, educational administrator to historian of technology,
publisher to canon lawyer, political scientist to spiritual director, with the practitio-
ners of so many other arts and crafts in the interstices.
Whenever I telephoned a Jesuit and, in the name of the provincials, invited
him to accept a three-year term on the Seminar, I experienced a regularly recurring
response: "Who? Me? I'm not a spiritual director or writer. I don't regularly give
retreats. My background isn't in Jesuit spirituality." My response was often: "Those
are precisely the reasons for your being asked to be a member of the Seminar. Even
if not directly, every Jesuit is really involved in Jesuit spirituality in the very living
of the Jesuit life. And we would like to draw on your experiences, your insights,
your contributions to what it means to live the Jesuit life in the United States today.
You would not be continuing to live that Jesuit life unless at the deepest it was
rooted and nourished by the spirituality of the Society of Jesus." Once a man became
a member of the Seminar, he saw how greatly varied were the ways that the spirit of
the Society, its inner life, expressed itself in the immensely variegated lives and works
of his fellow members.
The Seminar bids farewell this May to its departing members: Fr. William
Barry, S.J. (NEN), tertianship director at Campion Center, Weston, Mass., and author;
and in September it welcomes two new members and a new chairman. The new
members are Fr. Claudio Burgaleta, S.J. (NYK), professor of Theology at Fordham
University, New York; and Fr. Thomas Rausch, S.J. (CFN), professor of Theology at
Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles.
The Seminar and Studies go now to the very capable hands and imaginative
spirit of Fr. Richard Blake, S.J., the new chairman and editor. A member of the New
York Province, he is currently professor of Fine Arts and director of the Film
Studies Program at Boston College. He will edit STUDIES from Boston, while the
Institute of Jesuit Sources here in St. Louis will continue to carry out its printing and
distribution. He and the members of the Seminar, present and future, will continue
to serve the Jesuits of the U.S. Assistancy and other readers of STUDIES, I am
confident, in a spirit of fidelity well described in its first issue: "Fidelity is the source
of all newness and freshness. Through it the past erupts like a spring into the
present, and the present itself comes alive." From such a present they and you can
look with confidence to the future and to whatever new ventures they might bring
to the Seminar and to STUDIES.
For myself, there are few gifts of God that I can think of more precious
than having had the privilege for sixteen years of editing STUDIES and of sharing with
so many of my brethren the life of the Seminar. My thanks to them and to all of
you, the readers of STUDIES.
John W. Padberg, S.J.
Buddhist Mindfulness 5
A Further Question 9
The Creative Moment of Redemption 11
Forms of Christian Prayer in Relation to Mindfulness 13
Centering Prayer and Mindfulness 16
Mindfulness and Ignatian Prayer:
The Rules for Discernment 19
The Practice of Mindfulness as Institutional Engagement . 21
Mindfulness: The Basic Idea 21
Mindfulness and Judgment 22
Mindful Christian Engagement 23
Corporate Mindfulness in the Society 25
Fostering Mindfulness through Higher Education 27
♦ NEW ADDRESSES! ♦
When corresponding with
Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits,
Send all editorial correspondence to
Rev. Richard A. Blake, S.J.
St. Mary's Hall
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
Send all subscription correspondence to
Rev. Frank Pedrotti, S.J.
The Institute of Jesuit Sources
3601 Lindell Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63108
A Path to Finding God in All Things
Will not a tiny speck very close to our vision blot out the glory of
the world, and leave only a margin by which we see the blot? I
know of no speck so troublesome as self
—George Eliot, Middlemarch
In the summer of 1980 I had the opportunity to attend a rather
lengthy workshop on spirituality given by Anthony de Mello, S.J., the
widely known Jesuit from India who integrated Buddhist and Hindu prayer
forms into Christian spirituality. De Mello opened the workshop with the
bold— and rather disconcerting— proclamation: "There is no self!" With that
began my first extended introduction to Eastern forms of spirituality,
beautifully interwoven into a Christian framework with de Mello's distinc-
tively spellbinding charm. Ever since then, I have found the spiritual exer-
I thank the members of the Seminar in the Spirituality of Jesuits for their
helpful suggestions and comments. I am also indebted to Marci Rehg, Kevin Burke, SJ.,
John Privett, S.J., Pak Pyong-gwan, S.J., Donald Miranda, S.J., Christopher Frechette, S.J.,
and Barbara Rossi for feedback and ideas. Jeremiah Alberg, S.J., made helpful suggestions
on mindfulness as conversion and intersubjective mindfulness. Finally, I thank David
Hilditch, James A. Rehg, and William Barry, S.J., not only for their feedback but also for
supplying me with helpful reading material.
William Rehg, S.J. (MIS) is an associate professor of Philosophy at Saint Louis
University. His research focuses on argumentation theory, science studies, and moral
political philosophy. He is the author of Insight and Solidarity: The Discourse Ethics of
Jiirgen Habermans (University of California Press, 1994). He is currently working on a
volume on scientific argumentation. His address is Department of Philosophy, Humanities
Building, Saint Louis University, 3800 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63156-0907 and his
e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 •!• William Rehg, SJ.
cises to which he introduced us, in particular the awareness exercises, a
helpful form of prayer, at the very least a prelude to the more traditional
Christian ways of praying. 1 One thought especially intrigued me at the time:
the idea of translating the awareness forms of prayer into a more conscious
everyday living. But the idea merely hung around in the back of my mind
with nowhere to go; as I recall, de Mello did not introduce us to any
systematic program for such a translation. 2
The thought had all but disappeared when, more than a decade
later, a friend recommended to me Thich Nhat Hanh's little book, The
Miracle of Mindfulness? The title alone suddenly revived that old thought in
me. Nhat Hanh not only provides an accessible and detailed introduction to
awareness exercises focused on breathing, he also shows how one can extend
such awareness into one's daily living so as to live more mindfully; indeed,
that is the whole point of the more formal exercises. However, by the time I
actually got around to reading his book, I had begun to think of mindfulness
more broadly, as a phenomenon that could be studied in a variety of con-
texts. 4 I soon discovered that the idea of mindfulness had been employed in
other disciplines besides spirituality. The philosopher Gilbert Ryle attempted
to define thinking itself in such terms, under the rubric of "needfulness." 5
Social psychologists have also elaborated conceptions of mindfulness, includ-
ing the idea of "collective mind." 6
I suspect that many readers have some acquaintance with de Mello's manual of
exercises, Sadhana: A Way to God (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978).
2 In a later, posthumously published work, de Mello develops a program of
awareness more fully, albeit without the counterbalance of meditative disciplines: Aware-
ness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, ed. J. Francis Stroud, S.J. (New York: Image-
3 Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of
Meditation, trans. Mobi Ho (Boston: Beacon, 1987); for more elaboration on the extension
into everyday life, see his Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, ed.
Arnold Kotler (New York: Bantam, 1991).
4 I first tried out a broader conception of mindfulness (in areas of science and in
the Spiritual Exercises) in "Religious Values and Science: Artificial Intelligence Technol-
ogy," in Religious Values at the Threshold of the Third Millennium, ed. Francis A. Eigo
(Villanova: Villanova University Press, 1999), 175-226.
5 Gilbert Ryle, Concept of Mind (London: Hutchison's University Library, 1949),
esp. chaps. 2 and 5.
6 See Karl E. Weick and Karlene H. Roberts, "Collective Mind in Organizations:
Heedful Interrelating on Flight Decks," Administrative Science Quarterly 38 (1993): 357-81;
a more individual conception is elaborated by Ellen J. Langer in her "Minding Matters:
The Consequences of Mindlessness-Mindfulness," in Advances in Experimental Psychology,
Christian Mindfulness 4* 3
Emboldened by the potential breadth of mindfulness, in this essay I
examine our familiar Catholic and Jesuit traditions as providing us with
specifically Christian practices of mindfulness. As we shall see, a broad range
of traditional Catholic prayer forms can be understood in relation to mind-
fulness. Once I have discussed some of these forms, I turn to Jesuit spiritual-
ity, in particular, the idea of contemplation in action or "finding God in all
things." I close by suggesting a more expansive understanding of mindful-
ness, one with implications for our apostolic engagement in the twenty-first
Before turning to Christian prayer traditions, however, I examine
the Buddhist notion of mindfulness. Why start with Buddhism? Because
mindfulness lies at the center of Buddhist spirituality, its practices can
illuminate resources that are already present in our own traditions but have
generally not been articulated in terms of mindfulness. Moreover, the
Buddhist tradition gives us a sufficiently determinate starting point that helps
us fix our ideas a bit; otherwise, a notion as flexible and vague as "mindful-
ness" tends to point in too many directions, so that one never arrives at a
determinate, usable conception. Although I am not simply importing
Buddhist practices into Christian contexts, my reflections draw upon works
that explore such possibilities for convergence or translation. 7 Many of the
Christian initiatives in this direction have tended to focus on Zen Buddhism.
The practice of mindfulness, however, goes back to older Buddhist tradi-
tions, among them the Theravada tradition; the key text is the sutra, or
teaching of the Buddha, on the "four foundations of mindfulness." 8 In his
vol. 22, ed. Leonard Berkowitz (San Diego: Academic, 1989), 137-73; see also her Mindful-
ness (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1989).
7 For an overview of authors, see Paul Bernadicou, "Catholic Guides in Dialogue
with Buddhist Practice," Review for Religious 58 (1999): 28-34. De Mello's Sadhana is, to
my knowledge, the most extensive Christian adaptation of Eastern forms of awareness
exercises. More theological treatments of the relation between Christianity and Zen
Buddhism can be found in Dom Aelred Graham, Zen Catholicism: A Suggestion (New
York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1963); see chap. 2 for sage advice on how Christians
should interpret Buddhist claims that there is no self. Thomas Merton gives a fairly
cautious assessment of Buddhist-Christian convergences in his Zen and the Birds of Appetite
(New York: New Directions, 1968); more sanguine is William Johnston, S.J., The Mirror
Mind: Spirituality and Transformation (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981) and
Christian Zen, 3rd ed. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997). Finally, Aloysius
Pieris, S.J., provides a broad framework for Christian-Buddhist dialog in his Love Meets
Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1988). One can also
consult the journal Buddhist-Christian Studies for work on dialog.
See Venerable U Silananda, The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Boston:
Wisdom, 1990), for text and detailed commentary; Thich Nhat Hanh also provides a
William Rehg, SJ.
very positive attempt to understand various Christian practices in terms of
mindfulness, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh draws on this literature. 9
In examining the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, I am most interested in
treatments that focus precisely on mindfulness itself and the associated forms
From the Buddhist notion of mindfulness, then, I draw out some
broad features that promise to hold true of certain Christian practices in a
way that does not simply assimilate these practices to Buddhism. In other
words, I assume here that we can meaningfully describe certain Christian
practices in terms of a Christian notion of mindfulness that is both distinc-
tive yet sufficiently similar at a more generic level to the Buddhist notion. If
this supposition proves good, then an interesting basis for further Christian-
Buddhist dialog opens up. But identifying practices of mindfulness in Chris-
tianity can also deepen our appreciation of our own tradition: in particular,
how it helps us pay more attention to our everyday present reality and
God's action in that reality. In other words, the idea of Christian mindful-
ness can, I hope, lead us into a better comprehension of what it means to
"find God in all things."
Even aside from questions of spiritual theology and interreligious
dialog, the everyday practice of mindfulness has undoubted value today. At a
personal level, I suspect that readers are all too aware of mindlessness and its
effects in their own lives: rigid behavior patterns and knee-jerk reactions, the
constant stream of thoughts and anxieties that can make us oblivious to our
surroundings and to other people's needs. All these forms of mindlessness
diminish our sensibility to life and its graces. At a societal level, mindfulness
has become an urgent matter in a world in which all "our moments have
been seized," as a columnist once put it 10 that is, by the continual bombard-
ment of Muzak, Walkmans, and blaring videos, all drilling us in the con-
sumer patterns dictated by the corporate culture in which we move and live
and have our being today. That people these days feel the need to set aside
periods of "quality time" speaks volumes about the compulsive character of
daily life, the all-pervasive culture that invades more and more of our space,
readable commentary with text. See his Transformation and Healing: The Sutra on the Four
Establishments of Mindfulness (Berkeley: Parallax, 1990). For an account of the five main
Buddhist schools, see Oscar Shaftel, An Understanding of the Buddha (New York: Schock-
en, 1974), chaps. 5-7.
9 See his Living Buddha/Living Christ (New York: Riverhead-Putnam, 1995).
Richard Ford, "Our Moments Have Been Seized," New York Times, December
27, 1998, sec. 4, p. 9; also see Thomas de Zengotita, "The Numbing of the American
Mind: Culture as Anesthetic," Harpers (April 2002): 33-40.
Christian Mindfulness *fr 5
indeed, our very minds and bodies. Could an everyday habit of mindfulness
actually lead to an ongoing "quality" time for us?
Buddhism comprises a number of different schools or traditions that
differ, sometimes significantly, in their understanding of meditation, enlight-
enment, and the path to enlightenment. 11 Here I am interested in the idea
and practice of mindfulness connected with vipassana meditation, or "insight
meditation." The various forms of vipassana meditation are elaborated at
great length in the Four Foundations text mentioned in the Introduction
above. Buddhist authors distinguish vipassana meditation from samatba
meditation, which aims at a state of tranquility through concentration on
some simple object, such as one's breath or a mantra, to the exclusion of
everything else. In fact, the two types are not absolutely opposed but differ
in degree, specifically, in how much they emphasize the concentration and
how they employ it. Thus vipassana meditation also involves concentration
on some object such as one's breathing, but differs from tranquility medita-
tion by adding a more inclusive, less effortful element of mindfulness. 12 As U
Silananda puts it, "you keep your awareness on the breath and also every-
thing that comes to you through the six sense doors at the present moment.
. . . You keep your awareness on everything that is present." 13 Thus, as one
attends to the primary object of contemplation, one also remains aware of
other passing sensations, thoughts, feelings, and the like as they take place.
One simply notices them without judgment or evaluation. But one always
For a representative selection of classic and contemporary texts, see Rod
Bucknell and Chris Kang, eds., The Meditative Way: Readings in the Theory and Practice of
Buddhist Meditation (Surrey, Engl.: Curzon, 1977); see also Shaftel, Understanding of the
Buddha. Note that spellings of the Buddhist terms differ somewhat, depending on whether
the author uses the Pali or Sanskrit transliteration. (I use the former.)
One can distinguish two levels of attention or awareness here: the primary
awareness of the object on which one concentrates, and the secondary level of mindful
awareness of shifts in the primary focus. See John W. Newman, Disciplines of Attention:
Buddhist Insight Meditation, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, and Classical Psychoanalysis
(New York: Peter Lang, 1996), 28 f. According to Newman, in mindfulness meditation one
aims "to he aware now of what I am aware of now as happening now. My second level of
attention is always to be focused on the here and now, regardless of shifts in my first level
of attention" (ibid., 29).
Four Foundations, 38. For a readable explanation of insight meditation, see
Larry Rosenberg, with David Guy, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight
Meditation (Boston: Shambhala, 1999); also Venerable Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in
Plain English (Boston: Wisdom, 1993). I also draw here on de Mello's Sadhana.
6 * William Rehg, SJ.
returns to the main object of attention, in which one strives to notice ever
more subtle sensations; for example, variations in each breath, whether the
incoming and outgoing air is cold or warm, and so on.
Beginning with the mindfulness of breathing, the Four Foundations
lays out a panoply of meditative exercises. These include the awareness of
bodily postures and sensations, feeling states, and modes of consciousness
(for example, restless and scattered, concentrated, sleepy). But one also finds
exercises that employ the imagination, such as the meditation on the stages
of corruption in a corpse. 14 Particularly interesting is the meditation on the
repulsiveness of the body, which presupposes a months-long preparatory
training in which one learns by heart a specified list of bodily parts and
secretions and, in addition, acquires certain
attentive skills, including the ability to go
As such comprehension be y° nd , the mer f names and focus ° n th L e
. , , particular repulsiveness associated with
matures, it leads to an , T , , ,, ri .
. , , i' 11 each part. In the advanced rorm or this
insight that radically • • « k A ^ ,
d J practice, one dwells on one body part (to
transforms one's entire the poim of absorption) until one gains an
experience. insight that frees one from attachment to
the body. 15 Still other exercises focus on
^^^^™"^^^^^^~ B ~"~™"~~ the dhammas, a term that is often trans-
lated as "mental objects," though it in-
cludes material objects as well. 16 In this wide-ranging practice, one might
focus, for example, on the passage of thoughts, or various "hindrances" in
oneself, such as ill will, attachments, and the like. In one such exercise, the
meditation on the "five aggregates," one attends to some object, such as a
feeling, but goes beyond the simple perception of the feeling— that "this is a
pleasant feeling," say— to perceive the cause of its arising and disappearing. 17
As Nhat Hanh describes this exercise, one strives to perceive the interdepen-
dence of the object with everything else, an idea that other Buddhist authors
describe as the "selflessness" or insubstantiality of all reality. 18
I have described some of these exercises in more detail in order to
bring out a further distinguishing feature of vipassana meditation, its orienta-
14 At the time the teaching was first delivered, one did not need to imagine this,
but simply went to a cemetery and observed actual corpses.
15 Silananda, Four Foundations, 64-72. Here insight meditation incorporates
samatba meditation as a training stage.
16 Ibid., 95 f.
17 Ibid., 116f.
18 Nhat Hanh, Miracle of Mindfulness, chap. 5.
Christian Mindfulness 4« 7
tion toward achieving a particular kind of insight into reality, which in turn
is based on a "clear comprehension" of the phenomena that constitute the
object of the meditation. 19 Such comprehension is not simply a matter of a
proposition one comes to affirm, but is a full experience of the phenomena,
a kind of seeing: "When you apply clear comprehension, it means you
observe or take note of the object, paying close attention to it, trying to see
it thoroughly, precisely, and with all the mental faculties in balance. " 20
Moreover, this kind of comprehension is eminently practical, something one
carries out in all one's activities; by it one sees which actions are both
beneficial in general and appropriate in the particular circumstances.
As such comprehension matures, it leads to an insight that radically
transforms one's entire experience. 21 One comes to experience the imperma-
nence, unsatisfactoriness, and insubstantiality of all things, including
oneself. 22 As one can see from the exercises described above, this goal is built
into the design of the various forms of vipassana meditation from the start.
If a core Buddhist "theology" appears anywhere, it appears in the way these
meditations are structured and the terse instructions that direct one's atten-
tion in particular ways (for example, to the arising and passing away of
sensations, feelings, and thoughts, or to the foulness of the body), so that
one eventually comes to see everything as simply an ongoing process of
interdependent elements without anything substantial behind it. If this
theology sounds pessimistic and dispiriting, remember that it is only a
formulation of an experience that Buddhist authors describe as an extremely
exhilarating liberation from attachments and fears. The words do not so
much embody a theological system as simply name this experience. More-
over, as a claim about the present order, it fits well with traditional Chris-
tian views, including the Ignatian idea of indifference. Christians can agree
that everything in this world is not only impermanent and insubstantial, but
also affords us no final happiness, and thus is "unsatisfactory." They can
even agree that the "self" we construct as a separate entity, with its projects
Silananda, Four Foundations, 50-64.
20 Ibid., 52.
"The purpose of vipassana meditation is nothing less than the radical and
permanent transformation of your entire sensory and cognitive experience" (Gunaratana,
Mindfulness in Plain English, 171).
For a vivid first-person account of this experience of no-self, see Roger Walsh,
"Initial Meditative Experiences," in Meditative Way, chap. 27.
8 * William Rehg, SJ.
and inclinations, fears, and so on, is not the true self destined for union with
Nhat Hanh's formulation of this insight is particularly helpful for
seeing its positive character. He speaks of "interdependence" rather than
insubstantiality, and instead of "unsatisfactoriness" he uses the term "compas-
sion. " 24 I take the second shift to indicate how the insight into worldly
cravings and attachments as the source of all suffering leads to a deep
compassion for all creatures. Contemporary Buddhist authors as well as
Christian commentators stress that Buddhist meditation is oriented toward
this particular fruit. As Buddhists have shown by their deeds, compassion
based on mindfulness allows one to meet hatred with love, and to work
tirelessly for a better world. 25
I close this examination of Buddhist mindfulness by pulling out the
following general points as the most important indicators of how we might
conceive Christian mindfulness. For the first two such indicators, the
analogous Christian features are not hard to see. The third feature, by
contrast, raises a further question.
First, Buddhist vipassana meditation depends on a faith in the
particular hermeneutical grid that is built into the various exercises, a faith
that such practices can bring one to an experiential, liberating insight into
one's deep union or interdependence with all of reality. As William John-
ston, S.J., puts it, Buddhist meditation "is based on a very great faith— faith
in the presence of the Buddha nature [that is, one's basic interdependence] in
the deepest recesses of the personality." 26 This further distinguishes insight
meditation from tranquility meditation, which can be practiced as a purely
secular type of relaxation exercise. Similarly, Christian forms of meditation
depend on a faith in God's reality and loving presence.
Second, vipassana forms of meditation embody a particular discipline
that brings the Buddhist to experience his or her interdependence with an
impermanent reality that calls for compassion. That is, the exercises are
A number of Christian commentators have made a similar point; see, for
example, Johnston, Christian Zen, chap. 3; Mirror Mind, chap. 2.
24 Nhat Hanh, Miracle of Mindfulness, 45.
"When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and
listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to
relieve suffering and bring joy" (Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, 14). For concrete examples,
see James Forest, "Nhat Hanh: Seeing with the Eyes of Compassion," in Miracle of
Mindfulness, 101-8; also Chan Khong, Learning True Love: How I Learned and Practiced
Social Change in Vietnam (Berkeley: Parallax, 1993).
26 Johnston, Christian Zen, 17.
Christian Mindfulness •!• 9
structured in such a way that one who sticks with them comes to experience
what was first taken on faith. Similarly, Christian forms of meditation are
prestructured according to a Christian perspective, so as to bring the disciple
to an experience of God's love and a conviction that "the deepest and truest
thing within me is not myself but God." 27 And in both religious traditions,
the experience of this ultimate reality should issue forth in works of charity
Third, these more explicitly religious aspects of Buddhist mindful-
ness are, at the most mundane level, built on the simple practice of paying
close attention to ordinary, everyday phenomena such as breathing or
walking. As the Buddha put it when asked what was so distinctive about his
monks' very ordinary practices, "When we sit, we know we are sitting.
When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are
eating." 28 Indeed, the formal meditation periods are, at the very least, in-
tended to feed into and foster a continual mindfulness of the present mo-
ment and of what one is doing, thinking, and feeling in the present moment.
As Nhat Hanh points out, one can bring oneself quickly back to the present
simply by taking a few seconds to notice one's breathing. However, jumping
to a Christian correlate of this third feature strikes me as premature. I think,
rather, that the issue calls for further questioning.
A Further Question
In the foregoing list of characteristics I did not identify the Chris-
tian analog of the third feature, everyday mindfulness. Christian correlates
with the more advanced aims of Buddhist meditation— mindfulness ripened
to deep insight into reality-
came readily to mind; but it ^^^^^^^^^^^^™- — ^~~~—^^^^^
was not immediately clear to Compassion based on mindfulness
me what mundane Christian aU(m% om (Q ^ ^^ ^ j
practices are the most suitable , A , . , r
r , r i r» jjl- » and to work tirelessly
analogs tor the Buddhist s sim- r . , ,
«u * r *«._«.' * for a better world.
pie acts or paying attention to J
the present. To be sure, a host ^ __
of candidates present them-
selves for consideration, the myriad ways that Christians have developed of
praying in the midst of daily activity. But some of these tend to be more
concentrative than mindful, focusing one's attention on a sacred object or
27 Ibid., 18.
28 Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, 14.
10 * William Rehg, SJ.
pious thought at the expense of present activity. Such prayer forms are thus
more akin to samatha meditation. In his 1980 workshop, de Mello described
the constant repetition of the Jesus prayer along such concentrative lines; in
fact, I think there are other, more mindful possibilities for such a prayer,
which I will note later. At least in its typical vocal form, the rosary seems to
be a kind of samatha prayer: the repeated Hail Marys help one block out
distractions and concentrate on the mysteries. Other Christian prayers tend
to be more discursive than mindful. And still others, such as the daily
examen, tend to work indirectly to increase mindfulness: by noticing my
behavior post hoc I gradually learn to catch myself in the act itself.
A Christian mindfulness, I believe, should have something akin to
the simple direct attentiveness that characterizes the Buddhist practice. One
may, of course, simply import the Buddhist practice as a kind of supplement
to the Christian life. To the extent that I have attempted this, I am im-
pressed by the distinctive spiritual fruits it
1 brings. Mindfulness pulls me out of my
^j . . , head back into the present reality. One
Christians can approach , , r , /
rr . begins to notice now much or one s
the present moment in thoughts [s dnven by fears and concemS)
faith as the moment of worries about the future> or by attach .
creation, just as it con- ments of various types, the need to re-
cretely appears in each hearse favorite ideas, to build up one's ego,
moment. and so on. Likewise, the roots of behavior
patterns in cravings and compulsions be-
^^^^^~^^^~ come clearer, making rationalization more
difficult. At the same time, one's mind is
opened up, without thoughts, to the surprising but ever passing beauty of
mundane objects, to a simple awareness of the present. In one's interactions
with other people, mindfulness helps one listen unburdened with the need to
make one's own point, or by concerns and desires that take one out of the
present, away from one's interlocutor. Surely such attentiveness is crucial for
the practice of Christian charity or, as Ignatius puts it, a "discerning charity.''
What I am after, in short, is a distinctively Christian way of attend-
ing to the moment-by-moment reality. In saying this, I do not mean to
accord this particular type of prayer superiority over the other types. Which
form of prayer an individual favors no doubt depends on that person's
psychology, life circumstances, and so on. The different ways of prayer are,
after all, means toward union with God (which is God's gift in any case),
and I suspect each can serve this ultimate end equally well.
Christian Mindfulness •!• 11
In any case, to better sort through the various candidates for a
Christian version of vipassana prayer, a brief, somewhat more theological
The Creative Moment of Redemption
To get at a distinctively Christian method of mindfulness, it helps if
we recall two ways in which the Christian faith-experience differs, at least
on the surface, from the Buddhist experience of reality (as I understand it).
First, the Buddhist idea of insubstantiality, the experience of phenomena as
ongoing process without self, is modified for the Christian by the faith that
each present moment is the ongoing creative act of a loving, personal God.
Second, the experience of impermanence is qualified for the Christian by
belief in the promise of resur-
rection. We believe that some- HMHB ^^^^^^^^^^ H
thine deeper and lasting in ^ , . , . , . -
. , • rr One s mind is opened up. without
creation, and in our own lire . 7 . r . . ,
histories and actions, will be thoughts, to the surprising hut ever
revealed on the Last Day-just P assin S beauty of mundane ohjects, to
as the apparent failure of Je- a simple awareness of the present.
sus' life harbored a deeper ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
meaning that was revealed
after his resurrection and became the central narrative of victory for Chris-
tians throughout the ages. From the Christian perspective, then, the imper-
manence and insubstantiality of all things refer to the continual moving on
of all creation toward the personal Omega point of Christ's Kingdom, and
unsatisfactoriness refers to the incompleteness of all present things, an
incompleteness that calls us to cooperate in the compassion of Christ toward
a suffering world.
Like Buddhist mindfulness, then, Christian mindfulness has an
affective, practical character that deserves emphasis here. For the Christian,
the divinely personal character of the present moment means that such
mindfulness involves a loving attention to the present reality. We might say
that Christian mindfulness is above all a mindfulness of the heart, a mindful-
ness that attends to the love of God in creation and thus is lovingly respon-
sive to that creation. Consequently, as one's mindfulness deepens, so also
should one's charity.
The foregoing observations mean that Christians can approach the
present moment in faith as the moment of creation, just as it concretely
appears in each moment. And faith in the resurrection means that each
moment harbors the invitation to cooperate, by my choices and actions, in
12 * William Rehg, S.J.
the process of redemption pushing toward resurrection, just as this process
and its invitation concretely appears in each moment. Not that the mindful
Christian continually has this particular thought. In the foregoing paragraph I
simply attempted to describe two core aspects of Christian faith in more
present-oriented terms. But if I start with the faith that each moment is the
moment of creation just now appearing, then I do not need to think a
particular theological thought; rather, I only have to be attentive to the
creation before me. And if I start with the faith that everything before me is
pushing toward a resurrection to which my own choices are intimately
connected, then I don't have to think this thought each moment; I only
have to attend carefully to the demands of each situation. In Ignatian terms,
I simply practice a discerning charity appropriate to each situation.
In fact, the agreement between Buddhist and Christian traditions on
this particular point is striking. Regarding the Buddhist practice of daily
mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh notes: "Keep your attention focused on the
work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which
may arise— this is mindfulness. There is no reason why mindfulness should
be different from focusing all one's attention on one's work, to be alert and
to be using one's best judgment.'' 29 Similar recommendations can be found in
the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth century. 30 Within the Jesuit
tradition of finding God in all things, one finds a similar view. Drawing on
Nadal, Joseph F. Conwell, S.J., argues that "contemplation in action does
not mean that marvelous recollection in the midst of a crowd where one is
so absorbed in God he is scarcely aware of the crowd; it means that marvel-
ous recollection in the midst of a crowd where he is so absorbed in God he
is very much aware of the crowd, seeing on each one the mark of the Blood of
Christ." 31 Likewise Maurice Giuliani, S.J., who notes that when Ignatius
refers to finding God in all things, he "does not ask the mind to distract
itself from the present activity to become aware of God by a sort of division
which would eventually become intolerable." 32
29 Miracle of Mindfulness, 14.
30 Thomas Keating, "The Practice of Attention/Intention," in Centering Prayer
in Daily Life and Ministry, ed. G. Reininger (New York: Continuum, 1998), 16.
Joseph F. Conwell, S.J., Contemplation in Action: A Study in Ignatian Prayer
(Spokane: Gonzaga University, 1957), 84 (emphasis added).
Maurice Giuliani, S.J., "Finding God in All Things," in Finding God in All
Things: Essays on Ignatian Spirituality, trans. W. J. Young, S.J. (Chicago: Regnery, 1958),
Christian Mindfulness •$• 13
Forms of Christian Prayer in Relation to Mindfulness
We are now in a position to take a stab at sorting through the
different Christian prayer forms. From the standpoint of Christian mindful-
ness, we can distinguish at least three broad categories (which overlap in
some cases). First, just as formal Buddhist meditative practices are supposed
to feed into everyday awareness, fostering an ever deeper and more constant
mindfulness, so also the more formal periods of prayer for the Christian
foster the kind of faith that can approach the present as an ongoing creation
and redemption. These periods of lengthier formal or meditative prayer
(particularly those practiced during retreats) train us in the habits of the
discerning charity that accords with Christ's compassion. In such prayers we
open ourselves to the movements of the Spirit inside us, and learn how to
heed God in all things. Such exercises are, then, formal preparations for
Any kind of formal prayer exercise— whether vocal, mental, or
contemplative— that increases our faith in God's loving presence counts as a
preparation for Christian mindfulness, simply because it strengthens the faith
dispositions described above. But those formal prayer exercises that actually
train one in specific ways of paying attention go beyond this general kind of
preparation. As de Mello and others have pointed out, if we begin with
specifically Christian faith dispositions, then we are free to adopt such
Buddhist practices as breathing meditation, awareness of body sensations,
and the like, which now become Christian forms of vipassana prayer.
Precisely this initial Christian disposition is all one should need to transform
Eastern practices into Christian ones. However, I said earlier I would try to
do more than simply import Buddhist practices into Christianity. I thus
suggest that if one desires a more explicitly Christian adaptation of Buddhist
meditative forms, one need only link one's breathing with the name of Jesus
or some other short Christian prayer. But faith remains the key in either
case: according to Johnston, whether one breathes in silence or with a
Christian word, one is "breathing in faith." In support of this idea, Johnston
cites no less a source than St. John of the Cross. 33
Before moving on, I mention one example of how a formal mindful-
ness prayer can carry over into everyday life. By practicing a mindfulness of
the various distracting movements— stray thoughts and feelings, anxieties,
and the like — that arise during meditation, one heightens one's sensitivity to
such interior movements not only during formal prayer times but also in the
midst of everyday activities and interactions. I more readily become aware of
John of the Cross holds that all our breathing points to the ultimate breath
that is the Holy Spirit (Mirror Mind, 57f., also 50ff., esp. 53).
14 * William Rehg, SJ.
the various ways I'm pulled out of the present moment and away from
listening to others. Paradoxically, this seemingly introspective awareness
actually takes one back in the opposite direction— back into the present and
its demands, back to one's interlocutors.
The second general category includes prayer forms such as the
examen, or examination of consciousness, the sacrament of reconciliation,
and the like. These we might call prayers of retrospective mindfulness: in them
we recall our day and our actions to discern in retrospect God's presence
and to explore how attentively we responded to the moments of the day.
Such prayers train us indirectly in the habit of ongoing mindfulness. For
example, by helping us to become retrospectively aware of our behavior
patterns, feelings, and so on, the daily examination of consciousness develops
our ongoing sensitivity to such phenomena as they develop in the moment
Finally, there are those prayer forms that Christians employ in the
very midst of action, which we might describe as prayers of engaged Christian
mindfulness. Prayers in this category bring one directly into the present
situation as it is; they direct one's attention to the present moment and its
demands. Again, the faith disposition is decisive here: insofar as one starts
with this fundamental Christian disposition toward each moment as charged
with God's redeeming presence, such engaged mindfulness need not employ
specifically Christian thoughts. That granted, are there more explicitly
Christian modes of engaged mindfulness? I think there are indeed; for
example, in those very short subvocal prayers— as simple, say, as the word
"thanks"— that connect the present moment with Christ or God. When St.
Paul tells us to give thanks continually, he recommends a specifically
Christian practice of engaged mindfulness. The Jesus Prayer is another
example, about which more later.
I am inclined to see such prayer forms as examples of engaged
Christian mindfulness because they closely parallel a Buddhist recommenda-
tion of Nhat Hanh. In any number of places, he recommends returning to
one's breathing from time to time in the midst of activity, say every time
one hears a bell or must wait for a traffiic light to change. To help with this,
he recommends little poems whose verses follow the rhythm of breathing,
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
34 See George A. Aschenbrenner, "Consciousness Examen," Review for Religious
31 (1972): 14-21.
Christian Mindfulness ■!• 15
I know this is a wonderful moment. 35
This recommendation readily translates into explicitly Christian forms: I
simply return to the rhythm of breathing by saying to myself an appropriate
Christian verse, or by matching my breathing with the name of Jesus (for
example, Jesus, I breathe in your peace . . . ).
I do not claim that the three broad categories cover all forms of
Christian prayer. Moreover, some prayer forms may serve in more than one
capacity. For example, the examen is a formal exercise in retrospective
mindfulness. The Eucharist— if I may venture some tentative suggestions-
involves each of the three forms. It is, first, a formal exercise in Christian
faith, a period of time set aside in which we feed our faith commitment in a
way that strengthens us for a more directly engaged Christian mindfulness in
the world. Second, in the Eucharist we practice retrospective mindfulness
insofar as we remember the past in a way that makes our present living
more mindful. When we "acknowledge our failures" and "call to mind our
sins" in the penitential rites,
we engage, at least to some .^_^___^___^^_ ^— —
extent, in an act of recollec
J_ • , « j There are those prayer forms that
tion that might be construed f . . i . * .»
as retrospective mindfulness. Christians employ in the very midst
However, the Eucharistic ac- of action, which we might
tivity of communal remem- describe as prayers of engaged
brance, which directly Christian mindfulness.
strengthens us for mindful
engagement in the present,
provides a much better example of retrospective mindfulness. That is, the
structure of the Mass— the liturgy of the Word followed by the liturgy of
the Eucharist— helps us see that the history of God's saving activity, as
recalled in the readings, now achieves reality in this present moment
through the consecration. Consequently, we can also see the Eucharist as a
mode of Christian mindfulness engaged with the present moment. This is
how Nhat Hanh interprets it: "The Eucharistic rite encourages us to be fully
aware so that we can touch the body of reality in us. Bread and wine are
not just symbols. They contain the reality, just as we do." 36 Coming from a
Buddhist, this is an amazing affirmation of the Real Presence. Going beyond
this statement, however, I would say that the Eucharist displays the third
form of prayer insofar as it represents the supreme act of communal mind-
Living Buddha, 16.
36 Ibid., 30 f.
16 * William Rehg, SJ.
fulness in which we as a community become aware of the depth of God's
action in the present reality.
Regarding the practice of engaged mindfulness, I should mention a
tension, or tendency, in mindfulness prayers that rely on explicitly Christian
words, as suggested above. If, for example, one is linking one's breathing
with the name of Jesus, the possibility exists that one will slide into a
samatba-style meditation that takes one away from mindfulness of the
breathing. In fact, the formal Buddhist exercises also employ simple phrases
as a support for mindfulness (for example, counting breaths, or matching
one's breathing with "breathing in"/"breathing out"); according to Larry
Rosenberg, the words can help "stabilize our attention." 37 But for Buddhists
the words refer more directly, it seems, to the bodily activity as such. So if
the name of Jesus is to serve in Christian mindfulness meditation, the words
should neither become a focus for one's active imagination nor a mantra;
that is, a mere sound whose constant repetition induces a state of absorption.
The name is not in competition with one's attention to breathing. Perhaps
we might say that with the name of Jesus one blesses each breath with all its
sensate complexity: one calls it a sacred moment. From this perspective, a
shorter saying seems more appropriate for extended mindfulness than the
above verses used to recall one to mindfulness. The more words one uses,
the more easily one can slide away from attention to the moment itself.
This last point raises an interesting question regarding mindfulness
and the practice of "centering prayer" that has recently been revitalized
among Catholics. This type of prayer provides us with further insight into
the practice of Christian mindfulness. It also provides a good occasion to say
something about the Jesus Prayer.
Centering Prayer and Mindfulness
The suggestion that mindfulness meditation can consist of prayer-
fully repeating a sacred word, such as "Jesus," suggests the possibility that
mindfulness may simply be a type of centering prayer (or vice versa). This
term seems to come from Thomas Merton's talk of the encounter of God at
the person's "center." The form of prayer itself, however, goes back at least
to St. John Cassian and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing. 38 According
37 Breath by Breath, 25.
On the historical background to centering prayer, see Gustave Reininger,
"The Christian Contemplative Tradition and Centering Prayer," in Centering Prayer in
Daily Life and Ministry, chap. 3; also M. Basil Pennington, Daily We Touch Him: Practical
Religious Experiences (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1977), 41-44; see also Pennington's
Christian Mindfulness •!• 17
to its principal proponents, in centering prayer one introduces a simple
sacred word such as "love" or "Jesus* into one's mind and then allows the
word to repeat itself. 39 Such prayer forms involve an interesting mix of
concentration and mindfulness, samatha and vipassana orientations, that
differs in an instructive way from the Christian mindfulness prayers I've
As M. Basil Pennington pointed out early on, centering prayer is
superficially similar to the "transcendental meditation" proposed by the
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Given the source of TM in the Hindu Vedic tradi-
tion of samatha meditation, one could get the impression that centering is a
Christian analog of such meditation. 40 To be sure, in drawing the compari-
son Pennington stressed important differences. Unlike the Hindu meditation,
centering presupposes a faith commitment and does not rely on a mantra:
for the Christian, the meaning of the repeated word matters precisely
because it expresses one's intention, in faith, to consent to God's presence
and action in oneself. 41 But these differences are compatible with a Christian
form of tranquility meditation. In fact, there are significant similarities
between centering prayer and John Main's interpretation of the Christian
contemplative tradition, which does employ mantras. For Main, one should
choose a mantra (for example, "maranatha") without imaginative associa-
tions; this word then acts "like a harmonic that we sound in the depths of
our spirit." 42 The alignment of centering prayer with samatha meditation
gains further support from the way in which proponents of centering talk
about withdrawing from the concrete present and resting in God. This
suggests an opposition between centering and outer experience. 43
"Centering Prayer: A Living Tradition," in The Diversity of Centering Prayer, ed. G.
Reininger (New York: Continuum, 1999), chap. 1.
Pennington explained the basic steps to centering prayer in Daily We Touch
Him, 44-54, and has further clarified them in his Centered Living: The Way of Centering
Prayer (Ligouri, Mo.: Ligouri/Triumph, 1999), 42-52. Keating also provides a clear
explanation of the practice in his "Practicing Centering Prayer," in Diversity of Centering
Prayer, chap. 2.
40 Daily We Touch Him, chap. 4.
41 Keating, "Practicing Centering Prayer," 18; also Cynthia Bourgeault, "Center-
ing Prayer as Radical Consent," in Diversity of Centering Prayer, chap. 4.
42 John Main, O.S.B., Word into Silence (New York: Paulist, 1981), 10 f., 15. Like
the centering movement, Main draws both on the Cloud of Unknowing and St. John
Cassian; he does not connect the word with breathing. Finally, he clearly thinks that the
Christian mantra is not meaningless, but rather expresses a Christian faith commitment.
E.g., Pennington, Centered Living, 46, raises the possibility of bringing
together centering and walking, but notes that this would involve a division in one's
18 •!• William Rehg, SJ.
But centering prayer also involves elements associated with a
vipassana orientation. Although centering prayer does not link the sacred
word with one's breath or other bodily sensations, some authors emphasize
the effortless receptivity of centering in contrast to the more effortful
concentration and restricted awareness characteristic of samatba. 44 One does
not fight distractions in an effortful manner: "We resist no thought, retain
no thought, react emotionally to no thought, and return to the sacred word
when we notice we are thinking some other thought." 45 Moreover, the
importance of one's surrender to God — one's willingness while centering
simply to rest in the intention to consent, allowing to surface whatever
arises from the unconscious— brings centering closer to vipassana.
Like most forms of meditative prayer, then, centering combines
samatha and vipassana orientations in its own distinctive way. The key
difference, I think, lies in this, that mindfulness meditation anchors such
receptivity in the body and other concrete elements of experience, whereas
centering attempts to move beyond these. 46 Differences notwithstanding, a
similar receptivity to upsurging thoughts — neither dwelling on them nor
forcing them away — is found in both centering and mindfulness meditation.
In the context of the Christian faith commitment, such receptivity can
express, in both forms of prayer, the intention of surrender. This suggests a
further possibility for how we might understand the status of the sacred
word in Christian mindfulness exercises; namely, that the sacred word I
connect with my breathing symbolizes the faith intention of remaining in
the concretely, indeed bodily, present moment that is also God's presence.
In fact, the Jesus Prayer (of the Philokalia tradition), at least accord-
ing to some interpretations, may come the closest to the Christian mindful-
ness I've been aiming at. Although we can readily understand this prayer
form as a kind of tranquility meditation that turns our attention away from
our present surroundings (apparently this was de Mello's interpretation),
attention between the physical operations and God.
44 Bourgeault, "Centering Prayer as Radical Consent," 41-46.
45 Keating, "Practicing Centering Prayer," in Diversity of Centering Prayer, 20.
46 Other differences are interesting: in centering one tries to make sure that
bodily sensations do not distract one from the start, whereas in mindfulness meditation
such distractions are accepted as likely. And in centering, one returns from a thought by
gently reintroducing the sacred word; in mindfulness one stays with the distraction as long
as it imposes itself. One may even use a word that supports attention to the distraction
(e.g., one may repeat "itching, itching, itching" as long as such a sensation is distracting
one). This latter practice does not signify an attachment to the distraction, but rather a
receptive noticing of its coming and going.
Christian Mindfulness •!• 19
some commentators construe it in terms consistent with vipassana medita-
tion. William Johnston, S.J., has noted the similarity between the Philokalia
tradition and Buddhist breathing meditation. As a formal exercise, in other
words, the Jesus Prayer is quite similar to the mindfulness meditation I
So, sitting down in your cell, collect your mind, lead it into the path of the
breath along which the air enters in, constrain it to enter the heart alto-
gether with the inhaled air, and keep it there. Keep it there, but do not
leave it silent and idle; instead give it the following prayer: "Lord Jesus, Son
of God, have mercy on me." Let this be your constant occupation, never to
be abandoned. 47
Here the connection of the Jesus Prayer with breathing keeps one in the
present moment, inasmuch as it connects the prayer with awareness of one's
Mindfulness and Ignatian Prayer: The Rules for Discernment
I now want to broaden my exploration of Christian mindfulness,
noting some ways that our tradition encourages attention to God's action. I
turn first to the Spiritual Exer-
cises of St. Ignatius. As John ^ _^ — m
W. Newman points out, a
number of the general direc- ne sacred word J connect with my
tives in the Exercises already breathing symbolizes the faith inten-
incorporate an element of tion of remaining in the concretely y
mindfulness. Specifically, the indeed bodily, present moment that is
requirement in the seven- also God's presence.
teenth annotation that the
retreatant report "various agi- "" ^~ lulta " "" """ "™"~ " — ~
tations and thoughts" to the
retreat director, the review sessions and repetitions, and the examens under-
taken during the retreat "together produce a cumulative watchfulness of
what passes in mind and heart." 48 But the Rules for Discernment provide the
47 Quoted by Johnston, Christian Zen, from Writings from the "Philokalia on
Prayer of the Heart," trans. E. Kadlovbovsky and G. E. H. Palmer (London: Faber and
Faber, 1951), 80.
48 Newman, Disciplines of Attention, 52; see chaps. 5-6 for Newman's analysis of
the Exercises. My own analysis draws mainly on Rehg, "Religious Values and Science" (see
n. 4 above). For the corresponding texts in the Exercises, see The Spiritual Exercises of Saint
Ignatius: A Translation and Commentary, trans. George E. Ganss (Chicago: Loyola
University Press, 1992). I cite Ignatius's text as SpEx followed by section number; Ganss's
20 •!• William Rehg, S.J.
most striking example of Christian mindfulness in the Exercises, and so I
focus on these.
In the context of a retreat or discernment of some particular choice,
the Rules for Discernment help one to discriminate between the different
interior movements one experiences, distinguishing the consolations originat-
ing in God from the desolations arising from other sources (whether myself,
others, or the evil spirit). The rules also enter in after a choice, when one
seeks confirmation by continuing to notice consolations and desolations
associated with the choice. 49 Both the rules
__ «^^^_^^_^_ ^__ ^ .. for the First Week and those for the Sec-
ond Week are to a large extent descriptive,
The Rules for Discern- telling us what to look for in the various
ment provide the most desires, inclinations, and feelings that move
Striking example of Chris- one first toward one alternative, then to-
tian mindfulness in the ward another. For example, the second
Exercises. ru ^ e ^ or t ^ e Fi rst Week says that "it is
characteristic of the evil spirit to cause
— _ MMM ^____ gnawing anxiety, to sadden, and to set up
obstacles," whereas "it is characteristic of
the good spirit to stir up courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspira-
tions, and tranquility" (SpEx 315:2, 3). The third and fourth rules go on to
clarify consolation and desolation in their specifically spiritual sense. 50 Still
further aspects are described in rules 11 through 14. Many of the rules for
the Second Week are likewise descriptive, focusing on the subterfuges the
evil spirit employs to masquerade as an "angel of light," and telling us how
to discriminate these from actions of the good spirit.
These descriptive rules portray discernment as a practice in mindful-
ness, for they provide concrete ways of attending to God's action in us and
distinguishing that action from counterfeits. The mindful character of
appended commentary I cite as Ganss, "Endnotes," followed by the note number.
For further literature on the Rules for Discernment, see Ganss, "Endnotes,"
no. 141. Ignatius articulates his own understanding of the rules in his letter to Sister
Teresa Rejadell, June 18, 1536, in Letters of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans. William J. Young,
S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1959), 18-24. I have also benefited from the
"Official Directory of 1599," On Giving the Exercises: The Early Jesuit Manuscript Directories
and Official Directory of 1599, trans. Martin E. Palmer, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit
Sources, 1996), hereafter cited as Official Directory, followed by the paragraph number
being cited. See also Jules J. Toner, S.J., Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the
Discernment of Spirits: Guide to the Principles and Practice (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit
50 Toner, Commentary, 8 If.
Christian Mindfulness *k 21
discernment according to the rules is also evident in the Official Directory of
1599, according to which discernment primarily involves listening: "Simply
listen to the voice of God and dispose [yourself] as best [you] can to hear
that voice and receive the movements." 51 Like the other forms of mindful-
ness, the rules constitute a practice of disciplined receptivity to God's action
in the present moment, specifically, God's action in oneself. They also
display a relation to affect and practical engagement, similar to the connec-
tion we have already noted between Buddhist mindfulness and compassion.
As Newman argues, the kind of attentiveness engendered by these rules is
not a detached knowing devoid of feeling. Rather, in the context of the
Exercises the rules are meant to develop an affectively charged mindfulness —
they are meant to change what we want. 52 Many readers no doubt have
experienced this themselves: precisely by illuminating the source of various
desires and feelings in me, the rules engender the energy and courage to act
in sync with God's spirit.
The idea of Ignatian discernment as a practice of mindfulness has
some interesting broader implications for the institutional engagement of the
Society of Jesus as a corporate body. In the last section I suggest a general
way we might frame this broader conception of corporate mindfulness.
The Practice of Mindfulness as Institutional Engagement
In this concluding section I suggest a further expansion of the idea
of mindfulness. But before I wade into these more speculative thoughts, I
should pull things together a bit. Specifically, I want to clarify three things:
the basic idea of mindfulness, the relation of mindfulness to evaluation and
practical judgment, and the distinctively Christian contribution to mindfulness.
Mindfulness: The Basic Idea
In everyday parlance, mindfulness— talk of "minding" something or
"minding" what one does— refers to heeding or paying attention to some-
thing in the present. Mindfulness is being aware of the present moment and
its reality, what is happening in oneself and one's surroundings. If the idea
of mindfulness is not to slide off into a mere vacuity, we must keep this core
notion in mind. (Another interesting formulation: we must be mindful of
how we think of mindfulness!) Thus, being mindful is not the same as
imagining, remembering, or anticipating. My earlier reference to some forms
of Christian prayer as exercises in "retrospective mindfulness" is thus a bit of
51 Official Directory, 221.
52 Newman, Disciplines of Attention, 53.
22 * William Rehg, SJ.
a stretch, and it may be somewhat misleading. There the idea was to relate a
form of prayer to the engaged practice of mindfulness of what one is doing;
strictly speaking, recollection of the past is not the same as mindfulness
regasrded as attentiveness to the present.
However, one can be mindful that one is imagining, remembering,
or anticipating: I can be aware that I'm engaging in some imaginative
fantasy, dwelling on some past event, fretting over an upcoming deadline,
and so on. Being mindful of such thoughts
and distractions places me in the present
moment, and thus differs from those states
Mindfulness is being m wnicn I am fully absorbed in some fan-
aware of the present mo- tas ^' mem <>ry, or worry. As Newman puts
ment and its reality, what \ in bein S ™ indful ° ne P a ^ s ^ion ">
. * ^ • ir the various things pulline at one's immedi-
is happening in oneself „ * *\ & . . .
, , j. ate attention. We have already seen that
and one s surroundings. ^ ,,,. . . , ,.
° Buddhist insight meditation aims at a
heightened awareness of some present ob-
ject of attention, such as one's breathing —
albeit not to the forced exclusion of other things that may arise and momen-
tarily capture one's immediate attention. Such meditative practices should
carry over into one's daily living, engendering an ongoing awareness of what
one is about, an awareness that is engaged with the direct objects of activity,
on the one hand, while simultaneously monitoring that engagement on the
Mindfulness and Judgment
Buddhist commentators never tire of stressing the nonjudgmental or
nonevaluative character of mindful attention to the present. However, we
should interpret such disclaimers in relation to other statements about
nondetachment and the compassionate character of mindfulness. In urging us
to set aside judgments and evaluations, Buddhists want us to be as open as
possible to reality as it appears before us, unfiltered by our various fears,
prejudices, pre-given conceptual frames, and other cultural screening devices.
Such structures are necessary to help us cope with the chaotic complexity of
the world about us. But they also represent potential attachments, limited
badges of self-identity that block awareness of reality and prevent us from
responding in appropriate ways to what lies before us. For a concrete
literary illustration of this core Buddhist insight, one can hardly do better
than George Eliot's Middlemarch, whose plot is driven in large measure by
53 Ibid., 43.
Christian Mindfulness 4* 23
the way in which the characters' limited perspectives, fears, and vanities lead
them— in some cases, tragically— to misperceive one another. Eliot's remark
on the self captures this point, and thus provides an appropriate epigraph
with which to open an essay on mindfulness.
At one level, then, injunctions against evaluation are meant to keep
us maximally open to reality and thus ready to respond most appropriately.
Such a response presupposes a confidence, I think, in something like a
natural human tendency toward goodness and compassion, evoked simply by
the unfiltered encounter with reality and leading us to respond more appro-
priately than we would if we followed preordained cultural scripts. Thus, at
a deeper level, the Buddhist wariness of evaluation need not imply an
amoral, purely contemplative stance toward the world. Rather, it highlights
the priority of situated perception over abstract principles for moral engage-
ment. 54 This preference for perception accords with a general trend among
moral philosophers in recent decades. Virtue theorists, feminist philosophers
and proponents of the ethics of care, moral "particularists," and the like have
argued that virtuous character, empathy, and perceptive attunement to the
concrete situation are better guides to morally appropriate action than are
abstract principles and rules. 55 In short, mindfulness involves a non-
egocentric, loving attention to the present. Such awareness should heighten
one's capacity to judge and act in a morally sensitive manner.
Mindful Christian Engagement
For Christians, this loving attention to the present is imbued with
faith in a personal God drawing all creation toward the glory of the Parou-
sia. This faith perspective explains distinctively Christian prayer forms and
sacred words in connection with practices of mindfulness. At the level of
daily moral engagement, however, I'm not sure that mindful Christian
engagement differs all that much from Buddhist mindfulness — though in
extraordinary circumstances some differences might emerge (for example,
Buddhists but not Christians practice self-immolation as a form of nonaggres-
In fact, this point is explicit in Gunaratana, Mindfulness, 25-28, which
distinguishes three "levels of morality." At the highest level, moral judgment depends, not
on strictly following the rules, but on the "ability to juggle all the factors in every
situation to arrive at a unique, creative, and appropriate response each time," taking
account of others' needs and one's own (ibid., 26).
55 See, for example, Martha Nussbaum, Loves Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1990); Lawrence A. Blum, Moral Perception and Particularity (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1994); Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers, eds., Women
and Moral Theory (Savage, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987); Brad Hooker and Margaret
Little, eds., Moral Particularism (Oxford: Clarendon, 2000).
24 * William Rehg, S.J.
sive political protest). Ignatian discernment, on the other hand, does involve
a significant difference, namely a discriminating attention to desires and other
interior movements. This distinctively Ignatian form of mindfulness empha-
sizes explicit evaluation and judgment, an emphasis that sharply contrasts
with the disclaimers we find in the Buddhist approach.
This surface contrast may stem from the different contexts in which
the two traditions developed. Many of the Buddhist texts I've consulted, as
well as many of the Christian appropriations of Buddhist prayer methods,
strike me as primarily oriented toward heightened contemplative awareness,
growth in prayer (though here some of Thich Nhat Hanh's books are an
exception). Indeed, many of these texts appear to have been written by
monks. In a monastic context, one can afford simply to notice various
interior states and movements without evaluating them, especially when the
end in view is an insight into the transitory character of mundane reality. As
already noted, this attitude is not opposed to engaged action; indeed, it
fosters appropriately compassionate engagement. But Ignatius's Spiritual
Exercises, because they aim not simply at prayer but at fostering practical
Christian commitment, distinctively place in the foreground the orientation
Thus, in contrast to many of the texts on Buddhist mindfulness
meditation, Ignatian discernment— in particular the Rules for the Discern-
ment of Spirits— links mindfulness with explicit evaluation and judgment.
That is, one pays attention to interior states and movements precisely in
order to evaluate them in relation to possible choices and practical commit-
ments. Like his Buddhist brothers and sisters, Ignatius insists that right
choices and actions flow from a freedom from attachments or, as he puts it,
"indifference." And like the Buddhists, Ignatius provides us with a set of
"spiritual exercises" for arriving at such indifference. In contrast to many
Buddhists, however, Ignatius also provides us with a method or set of
instructions for making explicit judgments about which choices are appropri-
ate, that is, in sync with God's action in the world.
This observation leads me to the somewhat more speculative
extension of mindfulness that I promised above. As Jesuits, we want both
our personal choices and our institutional commitments to flow from such
discernment of spirits. The latter concern suggests a way of taking mindful-
ness to a new level, which has to do with our collective mindfulness as a
corporate body. At least two broad questions arise at this corporate level.
One can ask, first, how we as a Society are mindfully engaged. Second, one
can ask how our institutions foster mindfulness in the people they serve. In
my closing reflections I take up each question in turn.
Christian Mindfulness •& 25
Corporate Mindfulness in the Society
Given the link between mindfulness and discernment, the most
obvious starting point for addressing the first question is the idea of commu-
nal discernment, the importance of which generals (and other superiors) have
emphasized in recent decades. 56 To get a handle on the kind of mindfulness
this involves, recall first that as an exercise in mindfulness, discernment in
general has two sides. In discerning a personal or corporate choice, that is,
one pays attention to interior movements precisely in their relation to
choices— ways of practically engaging in the world. Hence, the other side of
the attention to our own interior movements is an attention to the world to
which those choices respond: in mindful discernment we strive to read the
"signs of the times." To borrow Ignacio Ellacuria's term, we want our
choices to issue from mindful
attentiveness to the present
"historical reality"; that is, the l n contrast to many of the texts on
situation and possibilities we Buddhist mindfulness meditation,
have inherited from the past, Ignatian discernment-in particular
whose apt realization depends ^ Ruhs f or ^ jyi scernYnent f Spir .
on our choices. Conse- .. 7 . L - jr i r*i ^/- •*
. . . its— links mindfulness with explicit
quently, the question regard- , . t • »
. , • jr i evaluation ana judgment.
ing the corporate mindfulness J °
of the Society leads on the __ H __^^^ M ^__ B ^_^ M ^_ B __
one hand to self-reflection,
that is, reflection on the interior movements within the Society as a corpo-
rate body and on our own corporate freedom from attachments and precon-
ceptions. On the other hand, it leads to an extroverted attention to the
world in which we are called to follow Christ. Although mindfulness is
focused on the present, Ellacuria's analysis implies that this focus must be
informed by an appreciation of how the historical character of the situa-
tion—including the Society, its traditions and institutions— shapes the
possibilities for appropriate action. (This connection raises further questions
regarding the relation between mindfulness and historical awareness, but I
cannot delve into the matter here.)
Traditionally, the task of corporate self-reflection fell chiefly on the
shoulders of superiors and generals, and to carry it out they were to depend
See Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., "On Apostolic Discernment in Common,"
Letter to the Society of Jesus, November 5, 1986, Acta Romana Societatis Iesu 19 (1987):
720-40 (with appendix).
See Kevin F. Burke, S.J., The Ground beneath the Cross: The Theology of Ignacio
Ellacuria (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000), chaps. 3-4.
26 * William Rehg, S.J.
on the manifestations of the Jesuits under their authority. We can see both
the interior and exterior dimensions of mindfulness in this practice. Provin-
cials often speak of this practice as a particularly consoling one: the manifes-
tations give the superior a profound sense of the interior consolations
enlivening the corporate body. Manifestation also provides an important
avenue — though certainly not the only avenue — leading out on the world,
insofar as members bring their perceptions of regional apostolic needs to
superiors. In other words, by giving the superior a better sense of the
interior movements of grace and resistance in the members, and by alerting
him to local and regional needs, the practice of manifestation helps superiors
make mindful corporate decisions.
The provincial and general congregations provide the most obvious
example of communal discernment in the traditional model of mindful
governance. But we can also view some of our recent practices as aiming at
more broadly distributed exercises of corporate mindfulness; for example, the
annual or occasional province get-togethers in which members reflect on
their apostolates, province commitments, and so on. Might we not see these
events as efforts to become mindful, as a body, of the needs of the region
and of what different Jesuits are doing in response to those needs?
Some recent work in social psychology is quite suggestive in this
context. In their study of aircraft-carrier-flight-deck teams, Karl E. Weick and
Karlene H. Roberts argued that safety could be enhanced by the collective
mindfulness of the flight-deck team and pilot. Here collective mindfulness
refers to the way in which team members each carried out procedures in the
concomitant awareness of the demands of the situation on other members.
In a mindful group, that is, each member is not narrowly focused on
performing his or her own task, but is also attuned to the situation as it
confronts the other team members. Mindfulness thus allows the team as a
whole to respond more appropriately to novel situations, for example, when
several things go wrong at once. 58
Although our aims as Jesuits go beyond the narrow task orientation
that characterizes a flight-deck crew, the idea of being collectively attuned to
one another strikes me as applicable to the Society, particularly in regard to
the "union of minds and hearts" that Ignatius considered so crucial. There
are various ways one might develop such applications. For example, the idea
of collective mindfulness suggests that our attunement as Jesuits to the
apostolic challenges and opportunities of the present reality will be enhanced
by our mutual attunement to one another's apostolic endeavors. This
58 Weick and Roberts, "Collective Mind." These authors draw on Gilbert Ryle's
conception of needfulness (see nn. 5 and 6 above).
Christian Mindfulness •!• 27
suggests, more specifically, that the concrete choices a Jesuit makes in his
own apostolate— for example, what someone in higher education teaches and
writes about — would be influenced by what other Jesuits are experiencing in
The foregoing remarks suggest that, in general, the corporate
mindfulness of the Society— its collective mindfulness as a group — depends on
a kind of intersubjective mindfulness that only arises between individuals,
such that the mindfulness of one person depends on the mindfulness of the
other. For example, when a superior makes a decision regarding the corpo-
rate engagement of the Society, the mindfulness of that decision at least
partly depends on the mindfulness of the various Jesuits whom the superior
consults, or whose manifestations he receives. This point holds all the more
for collective modes of decision making: precisely the reciprocal, intersubjec-
tive mindfulness that arises only between the various members of the
decision-making body (in face-to-face interactions and faith sharing) allows
for collectively mindful corporate decisions. Moreover, if the observations in
the previous paragraph are on target, then this general point also holds for
modes of mindful corporate engagement other than formal decision-making
contexts. That is, the collective mindfulness that emerges informally through
conversations, meetings, and the like depends on a kind of intersubjective
mindfulness, in which individual Jesuits reciprocally enhance each other's
Fostering Mindfulness through Higher Education
In discussing the second broad question — how our institutions might
foster mindfulness in those we
work with and serve — I focus ^^^^^~^^~^^~^^^~
on the apostolate with which The provincial and general congrega-
I am most familiar, higher tions provide the most obvious exam-
education. If we think of pie of communal discernment
mindfulness as attentiveness to . ^, ,. A . , » ,
, ...... in the traditional model
the present historical reality, r . ir ,
. , •, c c . ot mindful governance.
then the idea or rostering J J d
mindfulness through higher -^^-^^^^^^^^^™»i^_^^_^««««^^^
education comports with
those documents, such as those of GC 34 and Ex corde ecclesue, which call
for a dialog with culture. 59 Here I want to suggest a possible framework
' See Pope John Paul II, Ex corde ecclesue, para. 43: "A Catholic university . . .
is also a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and
culture" (see also paras. 15-20, 48 f.); Documents of the Thirty-Fourth General Congregation
28 4- William Rehg, S.J.
within which we might understand the ways in which our higher educa-
tional institutions have the apostolic aim of enhancing mindfulness.
We might begin by thinking of the various disciplines as providing
different modes of directed attention, defined by their distinctive topics and
methodologies. The divisions I suggest here are neither definitive nor hard
and fast; rather, they simply provide some clues for how one could think of
this or that disciplinary endeavor apostolically, from the standpoint of
mindfulness. For example, we could think of the natural sciences as teaching
us to attend more carefully to aspects of the surrounding physical reality, the
natural environment, our own bodies, and so on. The social sciences and
humanities help us notice aspects of the social world in which we live.
Philosophy involves reflection on basic presuppositions and conceptual
frameworks— both for the sciences and for our thought and language in
general— and thus can be seen as fostering a mindfulness of the interiority of
our culture, so to speak. Other humanities, for example, literature, seem to
head in that direction as well, albeit in a more concrete and imaginative
fashion. History can indirectly enhance our awareness of the present, can
help us notice things in the present precisely because we know more about
the past. Still other disciplines, such as the fine arts, seem to cross the lines
sketched above, drawing our attention to beauty and ugliness in various
domains of reality. When approached from within this framework, mathe-
matics teaches us to be attentive to quantitative manipulations and relation-
ships that are relevant for any number of human activities and disciplines.
Theology, finally, imbues the entire multidisciplinary matrix with a specifi-
cally religious significance by fostering a mindfulness of God's action
throughout reality, in all its dimensions— physical, social, cultural, and so on.
Notice that the above framework has that characteristically Chris-
tian dual structure that first emerged in the contrast between Buddhist and
Christian mindfulness. At one level, that is, the various nontheological
disciplines foster mindfulness of the present reality in all its complexity. For
the Christian, however, this mundane reality harbors the action of a per-
sonal God who both creates and redeems. Theology makes this faith perspec-
tive explicit, and thus brings another level of awareness to bear on the
realities to which the other disciplines attend.
But mindfulness involves more than simply acquiring information
through study. The student who learns mindfully does not merely accumu-
late facts and ideas. In light of the reflections above, I think we can see that
education fosters mindfulness insofar as one's studies lead to and deepen a
of the Society of Jesus (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1995), decrees 2-5 ("Our
Mission") and decree 17 ("Jesuits and University Life"), esp. nos. 404, 413.
Christian Mindfulness •!• 29
personal transformation. So far I have focused more on practices of mindful-
ness than on the transformation itself. To get at some deeper features of this
transformation, I further elaborate on the kind of insight at which mindful-
ness meditation aims. I then close by drawing some implications for mindful
As Buddhists emphasize, insight meditation leads one to experience
the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and interdependence (or "selflessness")
of all reality. We can easily see how certain disciplines, such as history and
political science, can make us more aware of how impermanent and unsatis-
factory reality is; but the relevant transformation involves more than such
an intellectual awareness. As the idea of interdependence suggests, the core
transformation leads one to perceive how deeply one's very existence and
identity are conditioned by and interconnected with everything else: the vast
natural cosmos, the planet's biosphere and ecosystem, historical and cultural
assumptions, linguistic forms, one's particular society and peers, and so on.
As a personal transformation, such an insight overturns our intuitive assump-
tions about autonomy as a kind of self-possession. Rather, one realizes how
little of who one takes oneself "to be" lies within one's independent control.
This transformation in how one views oneself engenders a shift in
how one views other people; specifically, one should become more aware of
how much others are likewise existentially conditioned and interdependent.
This realization opens one up to a more compassionate understanding of
others, so that one can respond in an appropriately loving manner to people
whose actions appear unreasonable or antagonistic. At the same time, one is
also attentive to how one's own place and background are shaping one's
responses to the other and possibly contributing to negative reactions.
Compassion involves both a deeper understanding of the other as well as a
deeper understanding of how one's perceptions of the other depend on one's
But the idea of "selflessness" suggests an even more radical transfor-
mation: that one can perhaps even begin to see the other person as oneself
or, what is the same thing, to see oneself as the other. Not that one assimilates
others to oneself by denying their differences. In fact, it's just the opposite:
one acknowledges that those very differences are also one's own, at a deep
level. Nor is this just a science-fiction fantasy, an imaginative exercise. In a
literal sense, others' differences genuinely belong to me as well. The "differ-
ences" I primarily have in mind here are those personal characteristics and
behavior patterns we find repulsive or off-putting in others. Thus, the other
person's ugliness, incompetence, sinfulness, silly ideas, unreasonableness,
abhorrent inclinations, and so on are at a deep level my qualities as well,
insofar as "I" could easily become like that other person under similar
30 4* William Rehg, SJ.
circumstances. Conversely, I could easily lose the good qualities I now
consider "my own." This is not to say that under different circumstances I
necessarily would have become like this other person. The point is that
nothing in my core self can guarantee that I wouldn't have become like him
or her — just as abhorrent, mean, incompetent, and so on. In other words, the
unsatisfactoriness of others is not just their unsatisfactoriness. We all share in it.
From a Christian standpoint, the transformation I have just de-
scribed—growth into a deep awareness of one's interconnection with every-
thing else, including the most repulsive — involves the sense of one's immer-
sion in the ongoing process of creation and redemption. In more traditional
terms, mindfulness involves an ongoing conversion to humility based on a
deepening insight into one's "creaturehood" and "need for redemption." But
all this is rather abstract. What specific contribution can Catholic higher
education (or Catholic education in general) make toward such a transforma-
One real possibility, it seems to me, concerns the kind of conscience
formation that goes with education-based mindfulness. Specifically, mindful
education aims to help students develop a compassionate conscience in-
formed by a humble awareness of their place in, and interconnection with,
the world. In the United States that means an awareness of their place as
inhabitants of a nation whose political
^""^^^^^^^^^^^ decisions and aggregate behaviors have an
As the idea of interdepen- «ormous > m P a « ° n other peoples and on
, , the ecosystem. Just as mindfulness medita-
dence suggests, the core \ J ,
r . , , tions enhance one s attentiveness to inner
transformation leads one * . .. r > l j-i
J and outer aspects ot one s bodily positions
to perceive how deeply and movements in the immediate sur .
one S very existence and roundings, so mindful education fosters an
identity are conditioned expanded attentiveness to one's feelings,
by and interconnected thoughts, and actions in relation to a glo-
with everything else. bal environment, both natural and human.
Mindful Catholic education, therefore,
^^^^^^^^— ^^^^^^^ — aims to open up in students a new and
much broader horizon of attention that
transforms how they examine their conscience. That is, education can (and
does) transform students to become mindful of how deeply they are inter-
connected with the rest of the globe and how implicated, as persons living in
the United States, with the problems and challenges of the world— its
As conditioned by the kind of selfless humility described above,
educated mindfulness naturally issues in a keener sense of our mutual need
Christian Mindfulness •& 31
for redemption (a sense not tied simply to personal failings), and it provokes
questions about how we can compassionately and appropriately respond
through our concrete choices. These are difficult questions, and answering
them requires both common sense and discernment. Guilt, I suspect, is one
of the main traps. After all, the students are not guilty in the usual sense:
they have not created the problems that cry for redemption, nor can they
solve those problems. And choices driven by guilt rather than love tend to
have a compulsive character, just the opposite of mindful compassion.
Another trap is numbness: being so overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of
events, in particular, all the suffering in the world, that one reverts to
merely processing information. Again the opposite of mindfulness: one
reduces the world to "virtual reality," one more current in the endless steam
of digital information that constantly inundates us today. 60 Compulsive
action, indifference— both are forms of "social desolation" that undermine
the capacity for mindful engagement. 61
To be complete, then, educating for mindfulness calls for methods
of conscience formation by which students can avoid such traps: students
need ways of "examining one's conscience" that are based on discernment
rather than guilt, a capacity
for silence rather than a crav- ^ __ __ .^^
ing for digital stimulation.
The particular methods can Education can (and does) transform
range from simple daily prac- students to become mindful of how
tices of prayer and reflection deeply they are interconnected with
to extended retreats; but they the rest of the globe and how impli-
all involve practices of dis- cated y as persons living in the United
cernment, carried out in si- States, with the problems and chal-
lence, which bring the neces- lenges of the world.
sary element of disciplined
concentration into mindful ^ ■"■^"^""^^^^^
education. By linking knowl-
edge of the world with discerning silence, mindful education as a mode of
conscience formation combines awareness and concentration in its own way
(analogous to vipassana meditation). How does this combination counter the
two traps? A mindful examination of conscience counters numbness by
taking what one has learned about the world and its troubles into an area of
See de Zengotita, "Numbing of the American Mind" (n. 10 above).
1 On the idea of social desolation, see William A. Barry, S.J., "The Spiritual
Exercises and Social Action: The Role of the Director," in Soundings: A Task Force on
Social Consciousness and Ignatian Spirituality (Washington, D.C.: Center for Concern,
32 * William Rehg, SJ.
disciplined silence in which one's own feelings and interior movements can
once more emerge. And in this silence one counters guilt by attending to
these movements, so as to discern how the Spirit is acting in one's heart,
moving one to specific practical engagements that flow freely rather than
compulsively. Given the dangers of self-deception, feedback from trustwor-
thy interlocutors (for example, a spiritual director, a faith-sharing commu-
nity) plays a crucial role in educating students for mindfulness.
In the context of mindful education, discernment must answer at
least two interdependent questions: (1) On what in particular will I focus my
attention; that is, for the most part, what should I read and listen to, with
whom should I converse, and so on? and (2) how can I appropriately
respond in my concrete choices? 62 Although an examination of conscience
might well uncover problematic behaviors and omissions, I'm not sure that
these would usually be sins in the traditional sense. Nonetheless, discern-
ment can lead one to consider behavioral changes (for example, concrete
ways of simplifying one's lifestyle or of being more generous) or even a
change in career path or vocation.
The foregoing remarks remain sketchy, but I trust that Jesuits
working in the educational apostolate are not unfamiliar with actual cases of
personal transformation that result from mindful conscience formation. In
describing our educational efforts and influence in terms of mindfulness, I
aimed to shed new light on what we are already doing, in the hope that
further possibilities might thereby open up. Certainly much more could be
said about how to make mindful learning a concrete possibility. The docu-
ments of the Thirty-Fourth General Congregation supply us with important
further ideas. But these remain somewhat abstract in relation to the demands
posed by our local apostolates. Indeed, no document or essay can tell us how
to realize mindfulness for our times. For that we must engage in the kinds
of mindful corporate endeavors outlined above.
There is more to be said here about the "composition of place" we provide for
our students in education; for example, through service projects, campus events, and so on.
Concerning the importance of place in one's response to historical reality, see Burke,
Past Issues: Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits
(For prices, see inside back cover.)
1/1 Sheets, Profile of the Contemporary Jesuit (Sept. 1969)
1/2 Ganss, Authentic Spiritual Exercises: History and Terminology (Nov. 1969)
2/1 Burke, Institution and Person (Feb. 1970)
2/2 Futrell, Ignatian Discernment (Apr. 1970)
2/3 Lonergan, Response of the Jesuit as Priest and Apostle (Sept. 1970)
3/1 Wright, Grace of Our Founder and the Grace of Our Vocation (Feb. 1971)
3/2 O'Flaherty, Some Reflections on Jesuit Commitment (Apr. 1971)
3/4 Toner, A Method for Communal Discernment of God s Will (Sept. 1971)
3/5 Sheets, Toward a Theology of the Religious Life (Nov. 1971)
4/2 Two Discussions: I. Spiritual Direction, II. Leadership and Authority (Mar. 1972)
4/3 Orsy, Some Questions about the Purpose and Scope of the General Congregation (June 1972)
4/4 Ganss, Wright, O'Malley, O'Donovan, Dulles, On Continuity and Change: A Symposium
5/1-2 O'Flaherty, Renewal: Call and Response (Jan.-Mar. 1973)
5/3 Arrupe, McNaspy, The Place of Art in Jesuit Life (Apr. 1973)
5/4 Haughey, The Pentecostal Thing and Jesuits (June 1973)
5/5 Orsy, Toward a Theological Evaluation of Communal Discernment (Oct. 1973)
6/3 Knight, Joy and Judgment in Religious Obedience (Apr. 1974)
7/1 Wright, Ganss, Orsy, On Thinking with the Church Today (Jan. 1975)
7/2 Ganss, Christian Life Communities from the Sodalities (Mar. 1975)
7/3 Connolly, Contemporary Spiritual Direction: Scope and Principles (June 1975)
7/5 Buckley, The Confirmation of a Promise; Padberg, Continuity and Change in General
Congregation XXXII (Nov. 1975)
8/1 O'Neill, Acatamiento: Ignatian Reverence (Jan. 1976)
8/2-3 De la Costa, Sheridan, and others, On Becoming Poor: A Symposium on Evangelical Poverty
8/4 Faricy, Jesuit Community: Community of Prayer (Oct. 1976)
9/1-2 Becker, Changes in U.S. Jesuit Membership, 1958-75; Others, Reactions and Explanations
9/4 Connolly, Land, Jesuit Spiritualities and the Struggle for Social Justice (Sept. 1977).
9/5 Gill, A Jesuits Account of Conscience (Nov. 1977)
10/1 Kammer, "Burn-Out"— Dilemma for the Jesuit Social Activist (Jan. 1978)
10/4 Harvanek, Status of Obedience in the Society of Jesus; Others, Reactions to Connolly-Land
11/1 Clancy, Feeling Bad about Feeling Good (Jan. 1979)
11/2 Maruca, Our Personal Witness as Power to Evangelize Culture (Mar. 1979)
11/3 Klein, American Jesuits and the Liturgy (May 1979)
11/5 Conwell, The Kamikaze Factor: Choosing Jesuit Ministries (Nov. 1979)
12/2 Henriot, Appleyard, Klein, Living Together in Mission: A Symposium on Small Apostolic
Communities (Mar. 1980)
12/3 Conwell, Living and Dying in the Society of Jesus (May 1980)
12/4-5 Schineller, Newer Approaches to Christology and Their Use in the Spiritual Exercises (Sept. -Nov.
13/1 Peter, Alcoholism in Jesuit Life (Jan. 1981)
13/3 Ganss, Towards Understanding the Jesuit Brothers' Vocation (May 1981)
13/4 Reites, St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Jews (Sept. 1981)
14/1 O'Malley, The Jesuits, St. Ignatius, and the Counter Reformation (Jan. 1982)
14/2 Dulles, St. Ignatius and Jesuit Theological Tradition (Mar. 1982)
14/4 Gray, An Experience in Ignatian Government (Sept. 1982)
14/5 Ivern, The Future of Faith and Justice: Review of Decree Four (Nov. 1982)
15/1 O'Malley, The Fourth Vow in Its Ignatian Context (Jan. 1983)
15/2 Sullivan and Faricy, On Making the Spiritual Exercises for Renewal of Jesuit Charisms (Mar.
15/3-4 Padberg, The Society True to Itself A Brief History of the 32nd General Congregation of the
Society of Jesus (May-Sept. 1983)
15/5-16/1 Tetlow, Jesuits' Mission in Higher Education (Nov. 1983-Jan. 1984)
16/2 O'Malley, To Travel to Any Part of the World: Jeronimo Nodal and the Jesuit Vocation (Mar.
16/3 O'Hanlon, Integration of Christian Practices: A Western Christian Looks East (May 1984)
16/4 Carlson, "A Faith Lived Out of Doors": Ongoing Formation (Sept. 1984)
16/5 Kinerk, Eliciting Great Desires: Their Place in the Spirituality of the Society of Jesus (Nov. 1984)
17/1 Spohn, St. Paul on Apostolic Celibacy and the Body of Christ (Jan. 1985)
17/2 Daley, "In Ten Thousand Places": Christian Universality and the Jesuit Mission (Mar. 1985)
17/3 Tetlow, Dialogue on the Sexual Maturing of Celibates (May 1985)
17/4 Spohn, Coleman, Clarke, Henriot, Jesuits and Peacemaking (Sept. 1985)
17/5 Kinerk, When Jesuits Pray: A Perspective on the Prayer of Apostolic Persons (Nov. 1985)
18/1 Gelpi, The Converting Jesuit (Jan. 1986).
18/2 Beirne, Compass and Catalyst: The Ministry of Administration. (Mar. 1986)
18/3 McCormick, Bishops as Teachers and Jesuits as Listeners (May 1986)
18/5 Tetlow, The Transformation of Jesuit Poverty (Nov. 1986).
19/1 Staudenmaier, United States Technology and Adult Commitment (Jan. 1987)
19/2 Appleyard, Languages We Use: Talking about Religious Experience (Mar. 1987)
19/5 Endean, Who Do You Say Ignatius Is? Jesuit Fundamentalism and Beyond (Nov. 1987)
20/1 Brackley, Downward Mobility: Social Implications of St. Ignatius's Two Standards (Jan. 1988)
20/2 Padberg, How We Live Where We Live (Mar. 1988)
20/3 Hayes, Padberg, Staudenmaier, Symbols, Devotions, and Jesuits (May 1988)
20/4 McGovern, Jesuit Education and Jesuit Spirituality (Sept. 1988)
20/5 Barry, Jesuit Formation Today: An Invitation to Dialogue and Involvement (Nov. 1988)
21/1 Wilson, Where Do We Belong? United States Jesuits and Their Memberships (Jan. 1989)
21/2 Demoustier, Calvez, et al., The Disturbing Subject: The Option for the Poor (Mar. 1989)
21/3 Soukup, Jesuit Response to the Communication Revolution (May 1989)
22/1 Carroll, The Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life (Jan. 1990)
22/2 Bracken, Jesuit Spirituality from a Process Prospective (March 1990)
22/3 Shepherd, Fire for a Weekend: An Experience of the Exercises (May 1990)
22/4 O'Sullivan, Trust Your Feelings, but Use Your Head (Sept. 1990)
22/5 Coleman, A Company of Critics: Jesuits and the Intellectual Life (Nov. 1990)
23/1 Houdek, The Road Too Often Traveled (Jan. 1991)
23/2 DiGiacomo, Ministering to the Young (March 1991)
23/3 Begheyn and Bogart, A Bibliography on St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises (May 1991)
23/4 Shelton, Reflections on the Mental Health of Jesuits (Sept. 1991)
23/5 Toolan, "Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire" (Nov. 1991)
24/1 Houdek, Jesuit Prayer and Jesuit Ministry: Context and Possibilities (Jan. 1992)
24/2 Smolich, Testing the Water: Jesuits Accompanying the Poor (March 1992)
24/3 Hassel, Jesus Christ Changing Yesterday, Today, and Forever (May 1992)
24/4 Shelton, Toward Healthy Jesuit Community Living (Sept. 1992)
24/5 Cook, Jesus' Parables and the Faith That Does Justice (Nov. 1992)
25/2 Donahue, What Does the Lord Require? (March 1993)— ONCE AGAIN AVAILABLE
25/3 Padberg, Ignatius, the Popes, and Realistic Reverence (May 1993)
25/4 Stahel, Toward General Congregation 34 (Sept. 1993)
25/5 Baldovin, Christian Liturgy: An Annotated Bibliography (Nov. 1993)
26/1 Tetlow, The Most Postmodern Prayer (Jan. 1994)
26/2 Murphy, The Many Ways of Justice (March 1994)
26/3 Staudenmaier, To Fall in Love with the World (May 1994)
26/4 Foley, Stepping into the River (Sept. 1994)
26/5 Landy, Myths That Shape Us (Nov. 1994)
27/1 Daley, "To Be More like Christ" Qan. 1995)
27/2 Schmidt, Portraits and Landscapes (March 1995)
27/3 Stockhausen, I'd Love to, but I Don't Have the Time (May 1995)
27/4 Anderson, Jesuits in Jail, Ignatius to the Present (Sept. 1995)
27/5 Shelton, Friendship in Jesuit Life (Nov. 1995)
28/1 Begheyn, Bibliography on the History of the Jesuits Qan. 1996)
28/2 Veale, Saint Ignatius Speaks about "Ignatian Prayer" (March 1996)
28/3 Clooney, In Ten Thousand Places, in Every Blade of Grass (May 1996)
28/4 Starkloff, "As Different As Night and Day" (Sept. 1996)
28/5 Beckett, Listening to Our History (Nov. 1996)
29/1 Hamm, Preaching Biblical Justice (Jan. 1997)
29/2 Padberg, The Three Forgotten Founders (March 1997)
29/3 Byrne, Jesuits and Parish Ministry (May 1997)
29/4 Keenan, Are Informationes Ethical? (Sept. 1997)
29/5 Ferlita, The Road to Bethlehem-Is It Level or Winding? (Nov. 1997)
30/1 Shore, The Vita Christi ofLudolph of Saxony and Its Influence on the Spiritual Exercises of
Ignatius of Loyola (Jan. 1998)
30/2 Starkloff, "I'm No Theologian, but . . . (or So . . . )?" (March 1998)
30/3 Torrens, The Word That Clamors (May 1998)
30/4 Petrik, "Being Sent" (Sept. 1998)
30/5 Jackson, "One and the Same Vocation" (Nov. 1998)
31/1 Clifford, Scripture and the Exercises Qan. 1999)
31/2 Toohig, Physics Research, a Search for God (March 1999)
31/3 Fagin, Fidelity in the Church— Then and Now (May 1999)
31/4 Schineller, Pilgrim Journey of Ignatius (Sept. 1999)
31/5 Fullam, Juana, S.J.: Status of Women in the Society (Nov. 1999)
32/1 Langan, The Good of Obedience in a Culture of Autonomy (Jan. 2000)
32/2 Blake, Listen with Your Eyes (March 2000)
32/3 Shelton, When a Jesuit Counsels Others (May 2000)
32/4 Barry, Past, Present, and Future (Sept. 2000)
32/5 Starkloff, Pilgrimage Re-envisioned (Nov. 2000)
33/1 Kolvenbach et al., Faith, Justice, and American Jesuit Higher Education Qan. 2001)
33/2 Keenan, Unexpected Consequences: Parsons's Christian Directory (March 2001)
33/3 Arrupe, Trinitarian Inspiration of the Ignatian Charism (May 2001)
33/4 Veale, Saint Ignatius Asks, "Are You Sure You Know Who I Am?" (Sept. 2001)
33/5 Barry and Keenan, How Multicultural Are We? (Nov. 2001)
34/1 Blake, "City of the Living God" Qan. 2002)
34/2 Clooney, A Charism for Dialog (March 2002)
34/3 Rehg, Christian Mindfulness (May 2002)
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